Bonny Scotland is a favorite destination of mine. I’ve been fortunate to have visited the land of infinite beauty annually for many years. Each and every visit is different. The Scots are honest and caring folks who work hard and play hard. With much diverse beauty and resources, the real question is: Where to begin with my adventures? In this edition, we will visit several fishing villages along the North Sea in the Angus and Aberdeenshire counties. Pictured above left is the Ferryden Lighthouse (Scurdie Ness) southeast of Montrose.
Scotland is the northern portion of the island commonly referred to as Great Britain. Many thoughts arise when Scotland is mentioned: golf, the epic movie Braveheart, history and iconic legends, variable climates, giant sloops, fishing trade, the abundance of wildlife, inventors, bagpipes and kilts, ale and whiskey. I am sure that one of these items you can relate to. In part one of a two-part adventure, we travel to the East Coast of Scotland on the North Sea. Note the map pictured right with Arbroath located below Aberdeen.
Small fishing villages and quaint cities like Arbroath hug the coastal cliffs and lowlands while granite, red sandstone and lava shelves provide optimum aquatic conditions for cod, haddock, lobster, prawns, and crabs. Stone is the primary building component for the cottages, mansions and businesses in these historic towns and villages. We watch two fishermen catch their daily need of haddock off the beautiful beaches below us (pictured, left).
Arbroath is our starting point. It is one of the larger towns with an estimated population of 23,000 and shares its shore with the North Sea. It is about two hours by train from Edinburgh. Historically, this area has been inhabited since the Iron Age. Arbroath, as a town, began in the late 1100s with the creation of the Arbroath Abbey. Scotland’s other adversaries are the Vikings who were both invading visitors and, in some cases, became residents.
The most important document in the history of Scotland is the Declaration of Arbroath (1320). This is a petition by The Chancellor of Scotland and the Abbot of Arbroath to the Catholic Pope. It was to settle the differences between England and Scotland. Less than a decade later a treaty between the three parties granted independence. However, conflicts between the two countries continued for centuries afterwards. A wee glimpse into the Scot’s desire for freedom is portrayed in the 1995 motion picture Braveheart, which was mostly filmed on location in Scotland. Moreover, we saw the perpetual yearning for independence evident in last year’s referendum. Signs (pictured, right) illustrate political feelings by the Scots.
Consider similar concepts of the 14th Century Declaration of Arbroath to those contained in our Declaration of Independence:
For as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is not for glory, nor riches, nor honors that we are fighting, but for freedom — for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.
Now for some maritime history. Arbroath’s Bell Rock Signal Tower (pictured, left) was built in 1813 as an on-shore connection to the separate Bell Rock lighthouse 11 miles off shore. The offshore lighthouse was constructed in 1811 on a rock outcropping that caused many deadly shipwrecks over the centuries. The Abbot of Arbroath had placed a bell on the rock as a warning to ships prior to the erection of the lighthouse, hence the given name of Bell Rock. Alas, a notorious pirate in the region, Ralph the Rover, stole the bell, which led to the permanent solution in the form of a lighthouse.
Today, Arbroath boasts an active commercial district including a covered shopping mall in central downtown, large modern supermarkets, a picturesque fishing wharf, and even a clone of a Home Depot store, all peppered with rich Scottish history. One of my favorite restaurants in downtown Arbroath is the Corn Exchange (pictured, left). It was originally a trading center and is now a pub restaurant with a fairly extensive menu. The blue cheese hamburgers are excellent!
Arbroath “Smokies” refers to both the name of the town’s football club and a fish delicacy, which the region is known for. I will never forget the first time I had an Arbroath Smokie in a harbor café. Like many foods in Europe, a product can only be marketed with a specific name in a certified region, such as Champagne. To earn the name “Arbroath Smokie,” the smoking of haddock fish must occur within five miles of the Arbroath town house. Ironically, Arbroath Smokies did not originate in Arbroath. However, they were created four miles north in the small fishing village of Auchmithie, which is within the designated area. We stroll through this ancient village of cottages nestled on red sandstone cliffs above the North Sea. The cottage (pictured, left) in Auchmithie is an example of the quaint seaside architecture that reflects days passed.
The cliffs begin at Arbroath and continue north towards Aberdeen (nicknamed Granite City). We amble down the ancient road to the beach on the North Sea for an incredible wow moment. Nestled within the cottages and a short stroll away is the But ‘n’ Ben Restaurant. It is highly regarded for its fresh seafood and Scottish fare. The traditional eatery is a must stop during a visit to the area.
The partially destroyed fishing wharf (pictured, left) lays waste to time’s erosion from wind and water. The wind-provoked waves crashing over the broken wharf are the result of the prior night’s maelstrom waned. We stand in awe of nature’s force and majestic beauty while contemplating the history of this place. It is astonishing to think throughout time what this land has seen with The Iron Age savages, Vikings, Picts, William Wallace, and Robert the Bruce. Were the World War II German submarine crews who gazed upon these same cliffs as enchanted as we are by the solitude, the colors, the history, and the amazing beauty? I am sure many of the same thoughts filled their minds as it has ours.